Northam announces 2025 goal to eliminate racial disparity in pregnancy-related deaths

Gov. Ralph Northam announced a goal to eliminate racial disparities in maternal mortality during a ceremonial bill signing Wednesday. (Gov. Ralph Northam's Twitter feed)

Black women are three times more likely to suffer a pregnancy-related death in Virginia than white women.

The racial divide in maternal mortality is a national trend that has increasingly received more attention, and on Wednesday Gov. Ralph Northam announced a new state goal of eliminating the disparity by 2025.

“A critical component of improving maternal health outcomes is the elimination of the racial disparity we are seeing in Virginia and across the nation,” Northam said in a statement, adding that it is “a worthy goal that is perfectly within reach.”

As he continues his racial reconciliation effort post-blackface scandal, Northam said he has directed his administration to develop strategies to reach the 2025 goal, which he announced during a ceremonial bill signing for House Bill 2546, which codifies the Maternal Mortality Review Team in Virginia, and House Bill 2613, which adds perinatal anxiety to the list of information providers must give patients.

Part of the effort includes implementing home visiting for families and increasing training on implicit bias and cultural competency for health care professionals.

It also includes having the state’s Medicaid program and the Department of Social Services expedite enrollment for pregnant women into Medicaid.

Northam is “directing all applicable executive branch agencies to provide recommendations for improving maternal health,” the release states.

In an interview, Dr. Jennifer Lee, director of Virginia’s Medicaid program, said her agency is “fired up” about the effort and eager to develop a plan moving forward. She noted that Medicaid expansion will help many mothers retain coverage and access health services after they’ve given birth.

“Before expansion, most pregnant women lost their coverage 60 days after delivery,” she said. “Now with expansion, we have an opportunity to keep the mom covered and to be able to offer more services for both her and the baby. Because obviously the baby is not going to be able to thrive without the mom being healthy.”

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Katie O'Connor
Katie, a Manassas native, has covered health care, commercial real estate, law, agriculture and tourism for the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Richmond BizSense and the Northern Virginia Daily. Last year, she was named an Association of Health Care Journalists Regional Health Journalism Fellow, a program to aid journalists in making national health stories local and using data in their reporting. She is a graduate of the College of William and Mary, where she was executive editor of The Flat Hat, the college paper, and editor-in-chief of The Gallery, the college’s literary magazine.